Rolfas Norås: advises Kaunas to be itself and dare to provoke
Director of cultural affairs in the City of Stavanger, Norway, team member of ‘Stavanger – European Capital of Culture 2008’ and co-founder of The European Capitals of Culture Family, Rolfas Norås believes that collaboration between European Capitals of Culture can help reach the long-term success. In the following interview, the presenter of the upcoming European Capital of Culture Forum in Kaunas shares his thoughts on Stavanger experiences and possible recipes of success.
Being a Director of Cultural Affairs in the City of Stavanger surely requires to take interest in culture. However, what does the culture mean to you personally?
For me personally, culture is about social affiliation, which is relevant, productive, value-added, inclusive, fair and challenging. Culture is not just the glue that holds us together and gives us identity and belonging, that’s also what sets us apart. When the inequalities meet that culture arises.
Stavanger was the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) 2008. Being a part of the team of the project, could you outline some of the main points of its programme and tell us did you succeed to reach all of the settled goals back then?
The Vision for the Capital Year was the ‘Open Port’, which emphasized a desire to promote international development, dialogue and hospitality, mainly based on the values of freedom, openness and tolerance. It was a highly unconventional programme during the Cultural Year. The Stavanger-region has an outstanding landscape, from miles of beaches along the coastline to big mountains and beautiful fjords. This was reflected during a number of spectacular and large-scale events and shows in the landscape, on venues that never have been used for culture or artistic purposes before.
We made spectacular events, such as an extraordinary show performed from an amphitheatre of packed snow in the mountain, with contemporary dance and music, extreme skiers and snowboarders. Or, such as ‘Fairytales in Landscape’, which was the main theatre’s biggest production ever, written by Jon Fosse and directed by Oskaras Korsunovas. We also held an art and culture project for selected lighthouses along the coast, called ‘On the Edge’. During this project, renowned artists and architects from all over the world was commissioned to produce projects or installations. Music and dance were also incorporated.There was also a poem written by the great Norwegian poet Arne Garborg in hay bales, which you could only see from the air when you fly into Stavanger Airport. Furthermore. We also organized ‘Horizons and Fragments’, which was a land-art project on an island outside Stavanger, created by five Nordic artists working in collaboration with a Stavanger poet. ‘Bandaloop’, an aerial dance company from San Francisco, also paid a visit and were dancing from high dramatic cliffs. They were working with musicians and dancers who performed on a lake underneath the mountainside. We also welcomed four distinguished international companies to have a month-long residence where they presented a number of productions. In addition, they accomplished workshops, seminars, performances etc., in collaboration with regional artists. Also, we tried to establish the ‘Point of Peace’, a permanent meeting place for Peace Prize laureates and others who are working for peaceful conflict resolution.
All the projects mentioned above were highly successful and we reached the settled goals, with the exception of ‘Point of Peace’. It was a paradox that ‘Stavanger 2008’s peace-project turned out to become anything but peaceful, and increasingly problematic and unsuccessful. On the other hand, all ECCs have imperfections and misguided experiences during the year as ECoC. If not, they have not taken chances, and they probably have had a too safe and boring programme.
Would you consider ‘Stavanger 2008’ successful in the terms of long-lasting outcome? Is the impact of programme still visible within the city and its citizens 10 years on and if so, in what ways?
When we first initiated the process of applying for the status as European Capital of Culture, the long-term effects were a significant reason and the most important success criteria for the application. Today, ten years after the cultural year, we experience that 25 of the 2008 projects are still continuing, contemporary art has become more accessible for people, and the long-term effects is properly integrated into the strategic objectives and Master Plan for the City.
Being a founder member of ‘The European Capitals of Culture Family’ (ECoC Family), why do you think it’s important to keep a contact with other actual, former and coming ECoC cities? What advantages does it bring to the upcoming ECoC cities as well as for the former ones?
Even though the ECoCs embrace different models of governance and structure and have different priorities according to their specific cultures, identities and demography, all have common ground in terms of meeting challenges and opportunities. So, to establish a regular exchange of information and experiences have been very helpful to develop common projects. Through co-commissions, co-productions and general contacts, professional co-operations and friendships, both personal and organizational, the ECoC-Family from my point of view has been strong, productive and successful. Even though there is still a further potential to identify and explore specific opportunities and challenges to better share experiences and learn from each other.
Since you’ve been studying various cases of ECoC cities for quite some time, what would be your advice to Kaunas and other upcoming ECoC cities for the successful preparation years?
Build sustainability. The years beyond the ECoC Year are even more important than the Year itself. If it’s over when the year is finished, it’s a limited benefit. Enhance people’s awareness of identity, demands and expectations. ECoCs can only build a great achievement from the regional art and culture environment, and support from the citizens by including and using the competence they represent. It is important to find a good balance between high-profile international events and local initiatives. If the resources and attention mainly go to projects brought from abroad, potential supporters might end up with disengagement. And local initiatives are more sustainable than high-profile events.
Being a ECoC is an opportunity to offer new ways of thinking, new networks, new cultural infrastructure – values which were not there before. At the same time, build programmes based on own identity and local condition. Be aware of the importance to connect the future challenges for the city with identity and history. Maintain a budget to continue international work.
There is no simple measure of success. But be yourself. Dare to provoke, be different, be surprising, be unique, be crazy. Give people what they don’t realize that they want to have. Visualise contemporary art and expression in public rooms and spaces in new ways. Such strategy will provoke, but at the same time raise important debates and meet new audiences.